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Understanding How FEMA Works

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Florida Interstate 75 near the Myakka River

Florida Interstate 75 near the Myakka River

Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian

When a natural disaster strikes, people's lives are ruined or destroyed for a considerable time. Some may or may not have homeowner insurance for repairs or their coverage is insufficient. The U.S. government's FEMA program often is activated for the affected areas of the region when POTUS announces it. At that time, a variety of resources become available to those in that area only. These resources include grant money, small loans, emergency services or aid. Before you can receive them, one usually needs to apply for the aid. This can be done via phone, Internet, or in person at a designated FEMA relief station. However, not everyone knows what qualifies them for a grant, loan, or relief aid. Knowing these perquisites help you decide whether to apply or not. Even if you do qualify, FEMA may decline aid to you - just because you qualify does not mean success in relief.

The general sequence is that one applies for FEMA aid. They either qualify or not. Those that qualify based on the data supplied then wait. At some point, a FEMA inspector will call and visit your residence to survey and validate your damage claimed. They enter this into a laptop and determine the Damage Level the disaster created. They then submit this data to their superiors for a final disposition within 10 days. If the decision is positive, you may receive a grant of money for repairs or loans that are available for repairs. You may also receive $700 for emergency food supplies deposited into your bank account. If the amount determined is not to your liking, you can appeal. If the decision is negative, nothing is given.

Nuanced Details to Know

Like any government bailout or help, the devil is in the details. Here is a list.

  • You cannot apply for aid if the home is not your primary residence, and your Homestead is there all year long. If you have a second home and it is damaged and it is not your primary residence, no FEMA aid.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen and must be in the declared disaster zone.
  • If you have homeowner's insurance, FEMA aid usually is not provided, and if it is, it will only pay a part after the insurance is paid.
  • FEMA does not pay your insurance deductible.
  • FEMA usually denies when you have insurance. You must first deal with the insurance before applying for FEMA aid. Send the repair bill to FEMA after applying.
  • There are five levels of damage for FEMA determined by the overall percentage of loss. Level 3 is 50%, Level 5 is 100%, Levels 1+2 are more cosmetic exterior losses and less priority when providing aid fast after the inspection.
  • FEMA seems to prioritize their responses based upon your application. An application indicating Level 3 or more loss, their response is much quicker online. The inspectors in your area see these residents first before those in Levels 1+2. I had Level 3 damage, my neighbor was Level 2. She is still waiting for FEMA. I, in the meantime, got a grant of $18K.
  • Your application will ask for yearly income, numbers in household, damage details, insurance status, have you gone without electricity and water for 5 or more days. The application is not long, and they seem to base it on income levels and family size, insurance status. Naturally, families of three making less than $50K with no home insurance are much more likely to get aid than those making 80K etc.
  • FEMA aid targets those less fortunate families with 50% damage or more and no insurance with higher priority. It is little help to those who are wealthy or between annual incomes of 75-110K. Many will get the $700 for food loss regardless of income.
  • FEMA does have loss limits. The most they will give is 37K for a Level 5. So, if the home is worth $500K but destroyed, it will not help much.
  • Many that do not have home insurance have good reason. Hurricane insurance for example is costly with monthly premiums of 2-3K, a deductible of anywhere from 10-40K, to cover a home! Even then, the insurance company may balk or deny your claim for some loophole in coverage. The deductible is so high that it seems pointless to have insurance for those on fixed or low income. Some insurance limits or excludes flooding, as well. Flood insurance is an additional policy!

FEMA is not the answer for all who suffer from a natural disaster and is targeted for those who need it the most and cannot afford repairs.

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